I don’t know why I had to read Scarlet Letter, but I know that the themes of hypocrisy, sin, redemption and religion imposing on individual will should have resonated with me. My guess is that I hated it, because it was assigned. It’s why I loved Brave New World, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and The Color Purple. None of them were assigned. None of them required a book report.
So, a former student bitches about Beowulf. Pardon the language, but that phrase just sounded fun, so I kept it. Anyway, he’s all upset about how irrelevant it is to his life. He mentions slaying dragons and dying a hero’s death and says that none of it makes sense to his world.
My first response is this:
Thoughts on Beowulf: Because if you haven’t do so yet, you will someday have the chance to slay dragons and in the process, regardless of what happens, you will see a glimpse of your own mortality and realize that the myths were right. To be heroic you must die, even if it is simply dying to your own will. It’s in those dragon-slaying moments that you will reach, not for some clearly defined functional texts, but for the poetry of the soul and the deepest mythology humanity has to offer. The problem with Beowulf is not that it isn’t relevant. The problem is that it is so relevant that it pushes us to ask questions we don’t want to ask. It’s why there is more relevance in a Pixar flick than in ninety-five percent of what you see on the news.
I stop, though. I erase it before pressing enter. Instead, I write, “Beowulf is like beer, strong, powerful, amazing at times, but maybe not suitable for children.” I erase it again. Too snarky. Too insulting. I hated Beowulf the first time, too.
I’m convinced the answer is to ban Beowulf. Tell kids that just say no to mythology. Tell them that it opens up the mind to new worlds and it causes them to fight against injustice and it’s really not very pro-capitalism. Tell them that it’s dangerous. Put it in the Restricted section. Keep the book under lock and key. It might go unnoticed, but that’s okay. It’s already unnoticed. But if it’s banned, we might at least admit that mythology is powerful.